A display of hake and burashi Japanese brushes from Sumida, Tokyo at Japan House London

There are two words for ‘brush’ in Japanese: hake and burashi. Hake (pronounced 'ha-kay') have long been used as cleaning implements in Japan, for Buddhist altars, scripture restoration and stencil dyeing. Edo brushes – Edo hake – take their name from the city in which they are made; Edo or present-day Tokyo. The term ‘Edo brushes’ appears in the six-volume Bankin-sugiwai bukuro, a catalogue of everyday products published in 1732 CE.

Burashi – from the English word ‘brush’ – were introduced in the 19th century at a time of rapid industrialization and introduction of technology from abroad. Responding to the changing times, makers of hake began to manufacture burashi and workshops were established specifically for their production. By the early 20th century there were around 80 burashi workshops in the areas of Honjo and Mukōjima, in the Sumida district of Tokyo, where The Tokyo Brush Manufacturing Association is based.

There are seven brush-making craft traditions officially recognized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government: brushes for pasting washi (Japanese paper), for stencil-dyeing textiles, for applying urushi (lacquer), for woodblock printing, for applying the white coating to the heads of dolls, for applying the white make-up used by kabuki actors and geiko, and broad brushes for painting. They are all individually handmade by craftspeople in the city.

Enjoy a display of high quality, handmade Edo brushes on the Ground Floor at Japan House London. Each brush on display has been created by Tokyo craftspeople who select, mix, insert, adjust and trim bristles by hand. Natural bristle materials include hair from horses, goats, pigs and wild boar, as well as fibres from the hemp palm tree. Uses range from specialized cleaning brushes to body and clothing brushes.